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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Arias from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Alcina, Theodora, Rodelinda, Agrippina, Rinaldo
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Aria, When I am laid in earth from Dido and Aeneas
Sonya Yoncheva (soprano)
Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro de Marchi (director, harpsichord)
Karine Deshayes (mezzo-soprano: 5, 9)
rec. June 2016 Academia Montis Regalis, Mondovi, Italy
Full Italian texts with English translations (No Purcell text provided)
SONY 88985302932 [63.45]

For her second solo album Bulgarian lyric soprano Sonya Yoncheva has turned to the Baroque, specifically to Handel opera and oratorio arias. Included as a bonus is an extra track ‘When I am laid in earth’ from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. The release marks a sea change from Yoncheva’s first album Paris, mon amour focused on the Belle Époque with arias from Gounod Massenet, Messager, Lecocq and Verdi also on Sony.

Yoncheva initially came to international notice when she was awarded first prize in the 2010 edition of Plácido Domingo’s prestigious Operalia competition at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. Asof now, the soprano has already appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera House, Bayerische Staatsoper, Berlin Staatsoper, Wiener Staatsoper and Opéra de Paris. Yoncheva made the headlines when in 2014 at short notice she replaced Kristine Opolais at the Met, who had withdrawn from Zeffirelli’s La bohème, and learned the part of Mimi; all this just five weeks after giving birth to her first child. Now this summer Yoncheva is engaged to sing Mimì at La Scala, Milan. An alumna of William Christie’s academy for young singers, Le Jardin des Voix, initially her career concentrated mainly on early repertory but since then early music roles have not been common in her repertoire although I notice that in 2016 Yoncheva sang the title role in Handel’s Alcina at Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Opéra Royal de Versailles.

In warmly impressive voice and with steadfast concentration Yoncheva excels in these demanding Handel arias, displaying a variety of often complex emotional states. With remarkable characterisation throughout, her tuning, phrasing and strong projection are splendidly conveyed with good purity. Not surprisingly in the top register one senses that her voice wants to blossom out from the strain of maintaining a straight Baroque tone. My two standout performances are probably the two most celebrated arias. ‘Ah! mio cor! schernito sei!’ from Alcina, where the sorceress has been betrayed by knight Ruggiero and becomes angry and revengeful, which is sublimely conveyed by the soprano with a silky, fluid tone. From Rinaldo, abducted by Armida the sorceress, Almirena laments her destiny in the aria ‘Lascia ch'io pianga’ with lovely affecting singing, as Yoncheva displays her noticeably deep feeling for the text.

Mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes joins Yoncheva for two of the arias. I especially enjoyed the duet ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’ from the dramatic oratorio Theodora where the lovers Theodora and Didymus, facing death, hope to meet in heaven. Sensitive and sensual the duo communicates the text with melancholy, providing an aching beauty. With Alessandro de Marchi directing from the harpsichord, fresh and alert period instrument ensemble Academia Montis Regalis using a moderate size section of ten strings plays with an impressive blend of style and expression.

Recorded at Academia Montis Regalis, Mondovi the engineering team for Sony provide appealing full, clear sound with immaculate balance. There is an informative essay in the booklet by Petya Ivanova which mentions all the Handel tracks but there is no biographical information about Sonya Yoncheva or the orchestra and conductor. Gratifyingly the booklet contains full Italian texts with English translations for the Handel arias but curiously no text for the bonus Purcell aria.

In the catalogue there are number of high quality albums of Handel soprano opera arias that I admire notably from Sandrine Piau/Christophe Rousset/Naïve, Renée Fleming/Harry Bicket/Decca, María Bayo/Skip Sempé/Naïve and Roberta Invernizzi/Fabio Ciofini/Glossa. Certainly Yoncheva’s new album can be placed in that illustrious company. Strikingly performed and recorded Sonya Yoncheva’s Handel album is a sheer delight.

Michael Cookson

Track Listing
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
1. Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17, Act II, Scene 8: Se pietà di me non senti [7.50]
2. Alcina, HWV 34, Act II, Scene 8: Ah! mio cor! schernito sei! [11.24]
3. Theodora, HWV 68, Act II, Scene 2: With darkness deep, as is my woe [4.13]
4. Alcina, HWV 34, Act I, Scene 15: Tornami a vagheggiar [4.50]
5. Rodelinda, regina de' Langobardi, HWV 19, Act II, Scene 7: Io t'abbraccio - Karine Deshayes (mezzo-soprano) [5.36]
6. Agrippina, HWV 6, Act II, Seene 13: Pensieri, voi mi tormentate! [6.38]
7. Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17, Act I, Scene 5: Non disperar, chi sa? [4.00]
8. Agrippina, HWV 6, Act II, Seene 21: Ogni vento ch'al porto lo spinga [4.49]
9. Theodora, HWV 68, Act II, Scene 5: To thee, thou glorious son of worth - Karine Deshayes (mezzo-soprano) [4.57]
10. Rinaldo, HWV 7, Act II, Scene 4: Lascia ch'io pianga [4.29]
Bonus track:
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
11. Dido and Aeneas, Z. 626, Act III: Thy hand, Belinda...When I am laid in earth [4.55]



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